Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Fucking hell

Zombies, Nazis, Mutants, tanks and cannibals all in one huge sculpture, what can you ask for more? This is the amazing work of brothers Jake and Dinos Chapman, make sure to watch the large version on their web site.

Jake and Dinos Chapman - Fucking Hell

Impractical laws of robotics

Here's a good point P.W. Singer, author of Wired for War, makes about Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics:

The most important reason for Asimov's Laws not being applied yet is how robots are being used in our real world. You don't arm a Reaper drone with a Hellfire missile or put a machine gun on a MAARS (Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System) not to cause humans to come to harm. That is the very point! The same goes to building a robot that takes any order from any human. Do I really want Osama Bin Laden to be able to order about my robot? And finally, the fact that robots can be sent out on dangerous missions to be "killed" is often the very rationale to using them. To give them a sense of "existence" and survival instinct would go against that rationale, as well as opens up potential scenarios from another science fiction series, the Terminator movies. The point here is that much of the funding for robotic research comes from the military, which is paying for robots that follow the very opposite of Asimov's laws. It explicitly wants robots that can kill, won't take orders from just any human, and don't care about their own lives.

io9 - The 3 Laws May Not Be Enough To Guide Robot Warriors - Wired for war

Monday, March 30, 2009

Evasion seat

Last weekend I visited the recently opened museum of the former atom bunker of the German government near Marienthal / Bad Neuenahr. The bunker (built between 1960 and 1972) is located about 20 km near the former capital Bonn in a strategical location constructed to enable quick evacuation of the German government in case of a full-scale nuclear attack. The bunker, titled "Ausweichsitz", literally "evasion seat (of the government)", was constructed to house 3000 people for 30 days, in order to keep the German government in a functioning state even when under nuclear attack. For this purpose around 900 offices and 950 dormitories were available in the bunker, plus support systems including 5 canteens, power plant, factory, spare parts storages etc. The bunker tunnels spanned a total of 17km underground and covered 85,000sqm of usable space. Today only a small portion of the bunker is still preserved in the museum, 99% were deconstructed in the phase after the decommissioning of the bunker in 1997.

A visit to the bunker is a veritable Fallout experience, however it's pretty astounding how naive and rudimentary these facilities were planned (all in good German bureaucracy and orderliness, of course). Take the "decontamination chamber" for instance, pictures below, which is located right after the heavy entrance gates. Decontamination consists of two shower rooms, one with regular showers and then another one with "acid" showers. Through a small window with a manually operated wiper, nuclear doctors are watching if everybody has showered well enough...it makes you wonder if this is all there is to dealing with a nuclear catastrophe on a major scale? Same goes for the sick bay, complete with exactly one operating table and one cupboard.

There were more problems with the bunker. For once, it didn't even satisfy the NATO standards for construction which called for at least 200m of rock cover. The Marienthal bunker reached a maximum of 115m, which wouldn't have withstood a direct hit of a hydrogen bomb and the resulting shifts in the bedrock. Also, the whole business of an atom bomb emitting an EMP strike and thus rendering useless most circuits was apparently forgotten, too. I'm not getting into the problem of why bother..? if the whole of Europe is a nuclear wasteland anyway. The whole project cost a large amount of millions in construction, maintenance and ultimately dismantling, and can be termed a conceptional disaster, showpiece to the madness of the Cold War.

Still, the museum is worth a visit and holds a couple of interesting exhibits, such as a "explosion-proof portable phone", vintage posters, and a great Command Center complete with old-school situation map. So a visit is highly recommended if you can find the place. I'm definitely going again soon to catch some more pictures. Unfortunately my camera broke, so I'm using pictures from the (much recommended) web site of the museum for now (see link below). While there, be sure to download the original Bunker Gate siren ringtone!

Ausweichsitz der Verfassungsorgane der Bundesrepublik Deutschland - Historie

Halligan bar

I present the ultimate in Zombie defense technology: the Halligan bar.

Wielded by fire and rescue workers everywhere, the Halligan Bar is the best door-smashing, get-me-the-heck-into/outta-here, zombie-fightin’ tool in the world. The deluxe 30-inch one I have (pic above) is made of high tensile strength titanium, so it will never rust and, despite its imposing appearance, weighs just 5.25 lbs.

Cool Tools: Halligan Bar

Monday, March 23, 2009

Cryptonomicon, 1999

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson, 1999. The greatest read imaginable. Parts of the present storyline reads dated now, but the WWII chapters of Stephenson's story are unbelievably realistic and exciting. Also he manages to portray his characters in an incredibly emmersing and funny way. It's a thrill from beginning to end, so don't be deterred by the sheer volume (of awesomeness) of this book.

Two tires fly. Two wail.
A bamboo grove, all chopped down
From it, warring songs.

...is the best that Corporal Bobby Shaftoe can do on short notice--he's standing on the running board, gripping his Springfield with one hand and the rearview mirror with the other, so counting the syllables on his fingers is out of the question. Is "tires" one syllable or two? How about "wail?" The truck finally makes up its mind not to tip over, and thuds back onto four wheels. The wail--and the moment--are lost. Bobby can still hear the coolies singing, though, and now too there's the gunlike snicking of the truck's clutch linkage as Private Wiley downshifts. Could Wiley be losing his nerve? And, in the back, under the tarps, a ton and a half of file cabinets clanking, code books slaloming, fuel spanking the tanks of Station Alpha's electrical generator. The modern world's hell on haiku writers: "Electrical generator" is, what, eight syllables? You couldn't even fit that onto the second line!

"Are we allowed to run over people?" Private Wiley inquires, and then mashes the horn button before Bobby Shaftoe can answer. A Sikh policeman hurdles a night soil cart. Shaftoe's gut reaction is: Sure, what're they going to do, declare war on us? but as the highest-ranking man on this truck he's probably supposed to be using his head or something, so he doesn't blurt it out just yet. He takes stock of the situation:

Shanghai, 1645 hours, Friday, the 28th of November 1941. Bobby Shaftoe, and the other half-dozen Marines on his truck, are staring down the length of Kiukiang Road, onto which they've just made this careening high-speed turn. Cathedral's going by to the right, so that means they are, what? two blocks away from the Bund. A Yangtze River Patrol gunboat is tied up there, waiting for the stuff they've got in the back of this truck. The only real problem is that those particular two blocks are inhabited by about five million Chinese people.

Read Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Women of WWII

Paris on the eve of liberation, 1944.

Ladies in WWII - Page 3 - WW2 in Color History Forum

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The lost city of Chernobyl

English Russia once again give us some great pictures, this time from a trip to Chernobyl.

English Russia » Lost City of Chernobyl

Global warming

TOP: Original photograph taken in 1928 of the Upsala Glacier. BOTTOM: January 2004, composite image of Upsala Glacier, Patagonia, Argentina.


Suicide bombing in Sri Lanka

This image made from video shows an explosion as it happened among a group of Sri Lankan Muslim men performing during a religious procession in Akuressa, in Matara, south of Colombo, Sri Lanka, Tuesday, March 10, 2009. A suspected Tamil Tiger suicide bomber killed 14 people and wounded 35, including Sri Lanka's telecommunications minister, during the Muslim festival, officials said.

Sri Lanka and its long war - The Big Picture - Boston.com

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The cactus dome

The net tells us that this looks like the bridge part of the USS Enterprise, but this is in fact a concrete topping for nuclear soil:
Beneath this concrete dome on Runit Island (part of Enewetak Atoll), built between 1977 and 1980 at a cost of about $239 million, lie 111,000 cubic yards (84,927 cubic meters) or radioactive soil and debris from Bikini and Rongelap atolls. The dome covers the 30-foot (9 meter) deep, 350-foot (107 meter) wide crated created by the May 5, 1958, Cactus test. Note the people atop the dome.

The Cactus Dome - Brookings Institution

If maps could fight

A tongue-in-cheek depiction of the course of the Second World War. Only the beginning shown here, click on the image to see the full version.

World War II: If Maps Could Fight « Strange Maps

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Russian army first person shooter

Russian army guys apparently have too much time on their hands, so they created a funny video of a real-life first-person shooter.

English Russia » Russian Army 3D Shooter

Monday, March 9, 2009

Slaughterhouse-Five, 1969

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, 1969.

All this happened, more or less. The war parts, anyway, are pretty much true. One guy I knew really was shot in Dresden for taking a teapot that wasn't his. Another guy I knew really did threaten to have his personal enemies killed by hired gunmen after the war. And so on. I've changed all the names.

I really did go back to Dresden with Guggenheim money (God love it) in 1967. It looked a lot like Dayton, Ohio, more open spaces than Dayton has. There must be tons of human bone meal in the ground.

Read "Slaughterhouse-Five" by Kurt Vonnegut